Headboard, dresser, mirror, two nightstands, a corner table. The Craigslist seller wanted just $150 for a bedroom set right out of Pottery Barn.
It was a steal for Manhattan. "Done," said buyer Jason Potts. The woman with the white smile wanted cash on the spot, and Potts obliged.
When Potts, 38, came back for the furniture, the doorman wouldn't let him in.
"Apartment 7B," Potts repeated. "Jaimie Merk."
The doorman smirked. He summoned night club owner Jerry Shipman, who arrived in a fit, telling Potts he couldn't buy the furniture. It belonged to him, Shipman said. So did the apartment.
Potts didn't know what had hit him — or that he had landed in the middle of a squatter's war.
The doorman told him to Google the name "Jaimie Merk."
Potts punched it into his phone and read about the "Botox Bandit" of Tampa Bay taking on the Big Apple.
• • •
Merk, 34, who has blue eyes, straight blond hair to her shoulders and a convincing, confident manner, had a history of living the high life at other people's expense.
Back home in Florida, she tried to rent out a house she didn't own, squatted in a South Tampa apartment and — as her nickname suggests — walked out of spas without paying for pricey beauty products and treatments. Court and probation records detail it all.
Florida dubbed her a fugitive last year after she moved to New York without telling her probation officer. In May, a $504 check bounced and the New York Post bellowed, "Florida's Botox Bandit hits Gotham Spa."
"She seems to continue her criminal ways," probation officer Carl Ecklund noted in a report recommending jail time.
Merk's Florida probation wasn't supposed to end until September 2012, but judges on both sides of Tampa Bay showed mercy. They ordered her to settle up accounts and she did, for the most part. (She still owes an adoption agency $6,113, after accepting financial support but changing her mind about giving up a baby.)
The New York spa got repaid, too.
As of Nov. 28, her probation was terminated and she had returned to her new life in New York.
"If you don't think I paid my debt to society, you're wrong," Merk said last week in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.
• • •
Shipman and Merk offer different accounts of what transpired with the Upper East Side apartment at 30 East End Ave., starting in October.
His account: He sublet the apartment to her for three months. That was six months ago, and she won't leave. Her first check bounced, he says. She repaid it with a certified check, but hasn't paid him since. In his book, she owes him at least $11,200 — four months rent at $2,800, plus a bounced check charge.
Shipman, 36, says he tried changing the locks, but she called the police on him. New York tenancy laws protected Merk, as a rent-paying resident of one month. Only the courts could force her out. Police made him let her back in.
And, he says, she tried to sell his furniture.
Her account: He told her she could keep the furniture. (Shipman grants that, but says he changed his mind when she stopped paying rent.) Furniture buyer Potts got his $150 back from Merk, and she ended up selling the bedroom set to someone else.
She says she stopped paying rent to Shipman because he wasn't forwarding it to the landlord. So she says she paid the property manager instead of Shipman.
"What essentially he was going to do was continue to take my money and not pay," she says.
To which he responds: "She is completely delusional."
The Parkoff Organization, the New York property management group, would not discuss the matter with the St. Petersburg Times.
Who's to be believed?
Merk says it's obvious. If she weren't paying rent, how could she still be in the apartment?
In February, she says, the property manager tore up Shipman's lease and wrote one for her.
She declined, however, to provide a copy.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]